On the 2nd September 2013, the Highway Africa awards were held at 1820′ Settlers’ Monument. An interesting start-up media company called Umuntu Media was the runner up and @263Chat won the Telkom-Highway Africa New Media Awards 2013 Innovative Use of Technology for Community Engagement. It was humbling just being invited to present and discuss @263Chat at Highway Africa, but to actually win the award was incredible!
When I retrace the @263Chat steps, I find myself in January 2012 when the idea was originally conceived. I had had a conversation with Zimbabweans (Zimbos) on twitter commonly known as Twimbos. The word twimbos is a combination of the following words: Zimbos + Twitter = Twimbos. I sent a few tweets about this Zimbabwean focused twitter discussion concept as I crowd-sourced the suitable time and day to hold and moderate these conversations. Various responses were tweeted back. I took note of their suggestions and then I sat on the @263Chat idea for approximately 9 months. Something within held me back. I still don’t fully understand what it was then. Was it fear or was the whole idea overwhelming? I don’t know really. However I’m glad I finally converted this simple idea into reality.
Either way, the idea was borne and something had to be done. Dialogue was and is the main focus. How do I get my Zimbabwean sisters and brothers talking in one room? The internet was my only choice. The internet could bring the often ignored diaspora to the table. That was important to me. The challenge was the platform. Which platform would allow for open dialogue? Twitter was the chosen platform. Anonymity was imperative to allow Zimbabweans the freedom to express themselves openly. Twitter’s 140 character limit was also instrumental in the decision to use this social media tool. Facebook was limited given the set up i.e. your network tends to be your ‘real’ and close family and friends. Some wouldn’t necessarily want those close to them to know exactly how they feel about gay rights for example.
The first #263Chat took place on 29 September 2012. The original format was:
- 1 hour discussion
- 5 different questions
- Every fortnight
After the first #263Chat, the format changed in part due to the feedback received from others to:
- 1 theme therefore 1 focus
- A weekly #263Chat
- Several questions throughout the discussion on the topic
The idea is fairly simple. To join the conversation, participants simply share their thoughts and ideas by including the hashtag #263Chat in their responses. #263Chat was created to enable dialogue especially in a highly polarised and politicised society that is Zimbabwe. Issues involving the youth and the diaspora seldom make it into main stream media I find, even with the overseas-based media houses. Initially when I established #263Chat, I just wanted to create a platform using the democratic space the internet provides. I wanted to encourage dialogue about issues that weren’t necessarily political but issues that ordinary people like me could actually influence and address ourselves. I hoped the platform would be used to perhaps highlight, crowd-source solutions and more importantly raise awareness of some of society’s social issues.
Apart from #263Chat Live Events, I have co-hosted with others including the US and the Dutch Embassy, the journey thus far has seen me fund the initiative essentially on my own. It is only now that I am currently in the process of formalising @263Chat where I currently offer a variety of social media services. @263Chat is and will effectively be a social enterprise. The income will naturally be ploughed back into @263Chat to host more events, interview interesting guests and increase the much-needed dialogue from the traditional twitter-based discussion to include other forms of media including the soon-to-be launched website.
As mentioned a website is currently under development and some collaborations with radio and print media are being explored as I search to engage more people. Zimbabwe needs to talk more and those watching us from the outside, need to see the real Zimbabwe instead of the typical Zimbabwean narrative often portrayed by main stream media. Zimbabwe isn’t limited to politics, land reform and indigenisation. There are real people with real issues often forgotten and/or ignored in our daily conversations.
To follow the now daily discussion, please search for the #263Chat hashtag on twitter, follow the @263Chat twitter account and even ‘like’ the @263Chat Facebook page.